[Contributed by Holly Grosetta Nardini, Yale]
The session on Difficult Conversations at MLA’15, sponsored by the Leadership and Management Section, was excellent. They invited a local professor from UT, Dr. Melanie Maxwell, a communications expert. In a very engaging talk, she reminded us of some of the core principles of talking to others. In fact, this type of presentation is useful beyond the workplace; I think of how to apply it at home – speaking to my “tween” children.
Her core piece of advice was that everyone needs validation (even if you don’t think they deserve it). Our job is to try to interpret the motivation behind their behavior. The real skill is to learn to defuse an elevated situation and not confuse our own opinion with facts.
She made a distinction between a combat and curious mentality, offering warnings that there are often *three* sides to every situation, that we must guard above all against displaying contempt, and that we have to fight our own flight response by probing and fully considering the situation. Of course she emphasized good listening skills, but her focus was on listening to show that you care and to help plan a strategic response. Every situation is complex and you have to know your own priorities.
She encouraged us to respond, rather than simply react, which is easier. Responding requires deliberateness, taking responsibility, describing your own feelings, and being sure that you are opening your mind and not freezing. This approach requires practice so you can think about your triggers and figure out your own priorities and prepare.
One interesting tip is that she discourages the traditional use of the “sandwich” – putting the criticism between two compliments. She encourages putting the agenda right up front since unnecessary pleasantries can make people nervous. She also suggested asking “why” over and over again, almost like a toddler, to get the maximum amount of information about a problem.
MLA’15 has an online component with recorded sessions and slides. I highly recommend a review of Dr. Maxwell’s talk which is full of great tips for talking with the people in your life.
Holly K. Grossetta Nardini
Research and Education Librarian
Cushing/Whitney Medical Library
This is the first in a series of blog posts from NN/LM NER Network Members who received awards to fund their registration to attend the Medical Library Association National Confererence in Austin, Texas.